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Bill to Expand Juvenile Civil Citations Statewide Moves in Statehouse

Central Florida leads the rest of the state in juvenile arrests. Photo: St. Edwards University.
Central Florida leads the rest of the state in juvenile arrests. Photo: St. Edwards University.

Legislation to protect young people from establishing criminal records for petty theft, alcohol usage, vandalism, and other misdemeanor offenses is moving forward.

The Florida Senate Committee on Criminal Justice has given its nod to a bill that would require a law enforcement officer to make one of two choices when encountering a young person who has committed a misdemeanor offense for the first time: Issue a civil citation instead of an arrest; or require that the young person participate in a diversion program such as a conflict resolution class, teen court or community service.

The secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), Christina Daly, called the process of issuing civil citations an effective way to protect young offenders from damaging criminal records.

“One of the big misconceptions is that kids in the juvenile justice system are all these ultra-violent, chronic, horrible kids. That is not the case.”

Daly and proponents of civil citations say the process would allow the agency to dedicate its resources to the small percentage of young people who continue to offend.

A recent DJJ analysis  found that four percent of young people who received civil citations were reconvicted within twelve months of their first offense.

The proposed policy change is part of sweeping juvenile justice reform taking place statewide.

More law enforcement agencies have adopted civil citations in the past year, particularly in central Florida, which leads the state in juvenile arrests.

Overall, juvenile arrests are at a four-decade low in Florida.